A keen set of eyes by an alert Falls Church citizen while jogging last week set in motion a fast-moving process that led to a decision expected Wednesday night at a special meeting of the City’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) to add four one-bedroom rental apartments to the City’s growing arsenal of affordable housing capacity. The final vote was due to be taken after the News-Press went to press Wednesday night, but was set to be reported on the News-Press website.
The quick move redoubled the City’s commitment to significantly expand the number of affordable living units, following on last week’s City Council commitment to designate more than 10 percent of the new units that will soon be under construction at the Broad and Washington mixed use project. That step was the first in over a decade to add concretely to the number of such units in the City.
According to leading advocates of affordable housing here, this latest move is hoped to signal the seriousness of the City to take action and will spur more moves in the same vein.
Seizing the opportunity in this case began with a phone call from a citizen to Bob Young, the chair of the EDA, and subsequent swift moves by Young.
The citizen was jogging and saw a new “For Sale” sign planted in front of one of the four-plex buildings on S. Maple St. in the area of four-plexes known as the Virginia Square Apartments.
The 20 four-plex buildings, built in 1941 with four one-bedroom units each averaging 700 square feet, are owned by a wide variety of entities, including one owned by the City and three owned by Atlantic Realty, who acquired them over a decade ago when it was developing a major project for the remaking of the City’s downtown until the Great Recession hit.
The 20 total buildings, which became known as the Virginia Village, are included in the City Planning Department’s Small Area Plan for repurposing in the future as the site of a denser and more efficient affordable housing location.
But back to our story — EDA Chair Young’s reaction to the citizen’s tip was to immediately contact the broker handling the sale of the building and to make an offer on behalf of himself. He acted so swiftly because he learned there were already over six offers on it.
He proposed a price above the asking price with an escalator clause that would automatically kick in with a higher price if others offered more. He told the News-Press that his plan was to secure the property with the aim of immediately shifting the ownership from himself to the EDA or the City.
But in the interim, City Attorney Carol McCoskrie has ruled that Young could not represent the deal on behalf of the EDA, and he was thus prevented from having a vote on the EDA decision Wednesday night.
He, along with members of the City’s Housing Commission, chaired by former City Council candidate Joshua Shokoor, were invited to sit in on the virtual meeting. EDA Vice Chair Brian Williams was expected to chair the meeting.
Young told the News-Press Wednesday that he considered the opportunity as “win-win-win” for all involved. The current owner gets above the asking price, the City gets its hands on four more affordable units to control in the future, and the current residents of the property will not face higher rental rates that a different buyer might have demanded.
The EDA, expected to approve the acquisition by way of Young Wednesday night, will enjoy low interest rates if it moves to finance the purchase and what Young projected could be a 5-6 percent return on investment when with the units being rented at the current affordable rate. It remained to be determined whether the EDA would finance its cost of acquisition, or draw down its Land Bank Fund, with over $1 million in it.
The EDA, Young stressed, “has adopted the position that affordable housing is key to its wider charge of bringing economic development to the City.” He said that “affordable housing is recognized by this EDA as a critical component of economic development.”